Ornithopod Dinosaur Discovered in China

A new genus and species of ornithopod dinosaur has been discovered in China, from two immaculately preserved, almost complete skeletons.

Dubbed “Changmiania liaomingensis“, this dinosaur pushes back the known range of ornithopods to about 123 million years ago, in the Early Cretaceous. The rarity of such amazingly preserved dinosaurs can not be overstated. Thanks to the spectacular preservation and intactness of these skeletons, we are able to make lots of very educated assumptions about this dinosaur’s lifestyle.

The holotype (top) and the referred specimen (bottom) of Changmiania liaoningensis in dorsal view; red arrows indicate the emplacement of the gastrolith clusters. Image credit: Yang et al, doi: 10.7717

Changmiania was an herbivorous dinosaur which was well-suited to a lifestyle of low browsing, displaying a classic herbivorous dinosaurian behavior involving swallowing stones called “gastroliths” to aid digestion in its gizzard. Being an ornithopod, Changmiania was capable of spectacular bursts of speed when necessary, thanks to its powerful legs. Most interestingly in my opinion, Changmiania shows clear evidence of being a burrowing animal. Possessing a wide, flat, and thick skull, Changmiania would have most likely used its head to manipulate soil alongside its powerful feet which could claw dirt out in order to hollow a burrow.

Skull of Changmiania in right lateral view. (A) Photograph; (B) line drawing. Image Credit: Carnivora

Paleontologists note that Changmiania shares many characteristics with modern digging mammals, which include a shortened neck and notably short arms.

Hailing from the Yixian Formation in Liaoning Province, China, this dinosaur would have shared its environment with a plethora of fascinating and iconic creatures. On the scene with Changmiania were ankylosaurs, titanosaurs, many species of ornithopods and ceratopsians, the iconic Confuciusornithid avians, as well as a large variety of troodontids, oviraptorosaurs, tyrannosauroids, compsognathids, therezinosaurs, and dromaeosaurs.  The environment that Changmiania inhabited would have been very green, dominated by an impressive variety of flora such as ferns, conifers, gingkos, and even flowering plants.

Both Changmiania specimens died sleeping in their burrows, as the earth collapsed upon them and buried them alive due to a devastating local volcanic event.

 

  • Y. Yang et al. 2020. A new basal ornithopod dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous of China. PeerJ 8: e9832; doi: 10.7717/peerj.9832

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